Mortician’s Apprenticeship: How Do?

It can be said that the funeral business, as a whole, is at least 50 years behind the times at any given point. Probably the last time you heard about a profession that trains its practitioners with a master/apprentice relationship was in history class: Blacksmiths, leathersmiths, any other varient ending in -smith. I believe I heard once that lawyers still practice the master/apprentice model as well.

March 25 is the 6-month mark for my year-long funeral director/embalmer duel license apprenticeship. 

This post is going to be an expansion of the previous sentence to illustrate the process by which someone gets a funeral director and/or embalmers license. As such, it’s going to be kind of dry so I apologize. But! If you’re actually interested in becoming part of the field, this will help point you in the right direction.


A lot of people don’t know that you have to be licensed to be a funeral director and/or embalmer. Another thing that a lot of people don’t know is that the funeral business is heavily regulated by seemingly everyone…. except the federal government. The Feds are the only one who don’t want to stick their fingers into the pie of death. (Pie of Death – similar to Poisonous Magic Pie as seen in Venture Brothers s01ep05 “A Poisonous Magic Pie”)

Every state has different laws governing the practice of funeral directing or embalming but there are several national organizations that also govern the ways things are done on the whole. For example, every licensed individual has to have the minimum requirement of an associate’s degree in mortuary science; Ohio and Minnesota are (currently) the only two states that require a bachelor’s. To achieve that degree, you have to go through special schooling at a mortuary science college, pass the national exams, and of course, graduate. As a depressing sidenote, any of this can become easier or harder depending on your connections within the funeral service industry – this has been my experience, anyway. (Without naming names, I watched a member of my class graduate and receive a diploma even after she had failed the national exams. Favouritism exists everywhere, unfortunately.)


Okay, so you have your degree but you’re still not licensed. In-between those two actions, you must first complete an apprenticeship. The length of the apprenticeship is determined by what kind of license(s) you’re going to be receiving. Some people only want to be licensed in funeral directing, others only in embalming, some in both. I figure, why not both?

I was extremely fortunate enough to be hired into a funeral home directly out of school and began my apprenticeship shortly thereafter. I should mention, too, that being hired for an apprenticeship is not the same as being hired for a job since there is a known termination date. Funeral homes can choose to re-hire you as part of their staff after you’re licensed but they can also choose to be done with you. In this sense, apprenticeships are kind of nice for both parties because it gives you a trial time with each other to determine if you’re a good fit.

So my apprenticeship is one year long and I have to fill out lots of paperwork detailing particular cases in either funeral directing or embalming. I then mail that paperwork in my state board organization and they review it. Yesterday, I went in for my 6-month interview which consisted of a meeting with a member of the Board as well as a member of the public. They asked me questions about what basically amounts to my daily occurrences to make sure that I’m learning what I need to learn during this year so that I can handle myself once I’m licensed. 

Alright. This post is boring so I’m going to quickly re-cap on the licensing process:

1. Go to mortuary science school.

2. Pass the National Board Exams.

3. Graduate.

4. Acquire an apprenticeship with a funeral home.

5. Turn in your paperwork on time, go through the 6-month interview process, etc.

6. Terminate your apprenticeship after the allot time is up.

7. Take and pass your state board exams.

8. Acquire license.

9. Huzzah! You are not a failure!


I’ll field any questions about this topic, it’s just so boring to me that I want to stop writing this post.


5 thoughts on “Mortician’s Apprenticeship: How Do?

  1. That’s a really great outline on the licensing process. I just have a couple of questions:

    1) How DO you really get an apprenticeship in the first place?
    Before I applied to my college’s MSC program (I’m located in New York, by the way), I contacted them for more information about it (like any responsible student would do, I guess). They also told me about a similar process like you outlined above. They told me that they do not place students in funeral homes; they just offer a funeral home practicum course during the final semester, but that doesn’t guarantee an apprenticeship. So how does one go about securing an apprenticeship in the first place?

    2) Once you complete your apprenticeship and are officially licensed, then what? You’re not guaranteed to work for the funeral home you apprenticed at. I guess you just apply for jobs online?

    3) I think it would be to your advantage to get licensed in multiple states, especially if you’re willing to relocate for work. Do you know if it’s relatively easy to get licensed through interstate reciprocity if you already have a legit license in your home state?

    Thanks in advance for any input you can offer!

    • I’ll do my best here.

      1) Same as you would get any job, really. The only difference is that funeral homes don’t tend to just put out want-ads… They don’t want their competition to know anything about them 😛 Stubborn pride. I would recommend checking the NFDA website for postings as well as your state board’s website.
      I got REALLY lucky in that the same funeral home that I served my practicum with also decided to hire me on for my apprenticeship and is talking about hiring me again after I get licensed. So that’s actually something I don’t (and probably won’t) know too much about from personal experience. Do you read any other industry blogs? Something like might be helpful to you at times.

      I think I just answered 2 as well, haha.

      3) You definitely do have an advantage with having multiple licenses. Some states may even offer reciprocity. The problem with having more than one license is that normally, to get licensed, you HAVE TO go through the apprenticeship process in that state. So, unless the board is willing to grant you reciprocity… you’re looking at at least 1 year per state.
      I don’t know how easy it is to get reciprocity. I know that it’s easier, though, if you’re working at a funeral home that is right over the boarder of another state. Because that just makes sense, really.

      • Thanks for the info, perishable! To continue our discussion…

        1) That’s what I thought. I haven’t seen any apprenticeship positions being offered publicly anywhere, so I’d imagine it’s either introducing yourself at funeral homes and asking around, or it’s done via word of mouth and who you know.

        2) Your situation sounds REALLY lucky, and congratulations on that! You did like a Triple Play of sorts haha…practicum, apprenticeship, then job….all with the same funeral home. That’s a very ideal set-up, if I don’t say so myself. At least it’s good to know that there IS the potential of that occurring, but I’m not going to hedge my bets on it at all. I am more than willing to relocate anywhere in the country after the apprenticeship (*I kinda like the term “preceptorship” over apprenticeship, but I digress on that*)

        I probably won’t be worrying about an apprenticeship until 6 months before I graduate anyway. My future program has the course, Funeral Directing with Practicum: “A detailed study of management techniques and procedures used in the operation of a funeral home. A supervised practicum assignment at cooperating funeral homes is included. (3 lecture hours, 6 laboratory hours) Lab fee applies.” I’m going to e-mail an advisor and ask exactly what “cooperating funeral homes” means…like do they have a list of funeral homes that are known to cooperate with students in the program? That’s probably my biggest question to ask them. Then, if I really want to get smart and shrewd, I should research the funeral homes and see if they’re looking for a director at the same time. That could potentially lead me to performing actual licensed directing duties that can easily transition into a job with them. I hope this is the right way of going about this! 🙂

        Thanks for the info about I only know two other mortuary blogs on here…one from another student, and another from an industry professional.

        3) I was looking at interstate reciprocity last night. The rules really aren’t bad at all. You don’t need to go through an apprenticeship (again) for most states. As long as you have a valid state license with at least one to three years of experience, you can get licensed in another state. Where I am in NY, funeral directing and embalming are combined into one license. Other states have separate licenses for those. So I think I’m at an advantage doing the program here at home in NY. The only extra caveat that you need to worry about with other states is having to take their own state mortuary law exam. I think that’s a requirement for most states.

  2. I went through my apprenticeship FIRST. I was very fortunate to have been offered the opportunity by a family-owned business which included mortuary, crematory, and cemetery. I was offered the chance to become trained thoroughly in each aspect of the business and was taught technique and protocol by absolutely patient and consummate professionals. My supervising embalmer was indeed by my side for the first 100 or more cases. When one can have a good idea of the type of work such as this, they can better decide if it is indeed something they can envision themselves doing, BEFORE investing the time and money into mortuary science college.

  3. How long after finishing school do you have to get an apprenticeship? I have graduated college and recived my degree, but I have had the worst time finding an apprenticeship. My mom is worried that I will have to do school over again at some point. (Its been a year since I graduated) While I was in school one of my classmates was a FD who had let the deadline pass on his CE and had to start school over regardless of his 50 years working for a FH.

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